Federal and state investigations into a large national chain of COVID-19 testing sites have turned up tests that were never labeled with patients’ names, tests piled into trash bags stored for long periods at room temperature, tests that were never processed, and test results that were clearly fake.
Behind the testing sites are two Illinois-based companies: Center for COVID Control (CCC) and Doctors Clinical Laboratory, Inc., which is said to carry out COVID PCR testing for CCC. The two companies share the same address, though CCC is owned by Chicago-area couple Akbar Syed and Aleya Siyaj, while the clinical company is owned by Mohammed Shujauddin.
Together, the companies claim to provide rapid and PCR testing for COVID-19, with fast turnaround times and no appointments necessary. So far, they have collected more than 400,000 samples from over 300 locations across the US. And they have billed the federal government over $113 million for running many of those tests.
The companies are currently under investigation by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as multiple states. On Wednesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a lawsuit alleging numerous counts of deceptive or fraudulent practices by the pair.
“When Minnesotans and people from around the country tested with these companies to keep themselves and their families safe, they trusted they would get correct results on time,” Attorney General Ellison said in a statement. “I’m holding these companies accountable that sent back false or inaccurate results, when they sent them back at all, for deceiving Minnesotans and undermining the public’s trust in testing.”
According to Ellison’s lawsuit, Minnesota investigators found evidence of egregious fraud and documented numerous cases in which the consumers seeking COVID-19 tests were deceived. In Minnesota, CCC opened eight pop-up testing sites that claimed to provide rapid test results in 15 minutes, with an emailed confirmation of results within three hours and results of PCR tests within 24 to 48 hours.
CCC often missed those windows completely, and many consumers referenced in the lawsuit have yet to receive any results weeks to months after their tests. Former CCC employees told Minnesota investigators that many of those tests were simply never processed. The employees noted that test samples were piled up in garbage bags around CCC’s office, without any organization or cold storage to keep the samples from degrading. According to federal inspections reported by NBC News, CCC employees didn’t even label some samples with patients’ names. Inspection documents from federal investigators noted that “51 out of 51 patient specimen tubes contained in the box [they examined] were blank.”
Former CCC employees told Minnesota investigators that if consumers called in asking about their missing test results, workers were instructed to say that the tests were processed but that the results were inconclusive and that they needed to be tested again.
Last week, CCC announced that it would shut down all of its testing sites to work on employee training and compliance problems.
In a statement, CCC CEO Aleya Siyaj said:
Center for Covid Control is committed to serving our patients in the safest, most accurate, and most compliant manner. Regrettably, due to our rapid growth and the unprecedented recent demand for testing, we haven’t been able to meet all our commitments. We’ve made this difficult decision to temporarily pause all operations, until we are confident that all collection sites are meeting our high standards for quality.
The announcement stated that the companies plan to reopen their testing sites this Saturday, January 22.